Elliott's turnaround mirrors that of the Blues

News-DemocratApril 23, 2013 

— When asked about the late-season turnaround of St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, general manager Doug Armstrong is chalking it up to an unusual accomplishment in an unusual year.

The same Elliott that was a healthy scratch 11 times this season and lost his job at one point to rookie Jake Allen has been one of the NHL's hottest goalies in April.

He also helped the Blues clinch a playoff berth on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over Colorado.

"It's something that's uncharted and I think a lot of it has to has to do with the work stoppage and (Jaroslav) Halak's injuries," Armstrong said. "Elliott's a good player and there's been a lot of things that aren't normal that have happened to our team -- and this sort of feeds it and completes the circle with the way Brian's playing right now."

Elliott ran his record to 12-8-1 on Tuesday with a victory over Colorado, but needed nine wins in his last 11 decisions just to get there.

He leads the NHL in shutouts this month, is tied for the lead in wins and ranks third in goals-against average.

Halak has returned to practice, joining Elliott and Allen on the ice for workouts. The Blues' playoff goaltending situation right now points to Elliott, but a year ago Halak entered the postseason as the starter only to be replaced after a first-round injury.

"At the end of the day I don't really care how we got here," Armstrong said. "I think our goaltending's as good as anyone in the league right now. We saw last year how quickly the situation can turn with goaltending in the playoffs so it's good to here with healthy bodies."

Blues winger T.J. Oshie was back skating again Tuesday just six days after undergoing ankle surgery.

"He skated today, so it's a positive sign but there's no definite timetable for it," Armstrong said.

Also on Tuesday, the Blues called up rookie defenseman prospect Jani Hakanpaa from the Peoria Rivermen. The promotion was more for Hakanpaa to learn what it takes to play at the NHL level that getting him instant playing time.

"I thought it would be good for him to have the experience of watching our guys preparing for the playoffs," Armstrong said. "I think it was a good experience for him to play on the smaller ice and learn the North American game. We liked the way he finished up in Peoria and we think seeing this and seeing the pace of the game will benefit him as he enters the summer."

The same holds true for Russian forward prospect Dmitrij Jaskin, who has played in two games with the Blues after a dominant season in juniors that included 46 goals in 521 games.

"He's a player with a leg up on next season," Armstrong said. "(Jaden) Schwartz got it last season and now Hakanpaa and Jaskin are experiencing it. Sometimes these players get that experience throughout training camp and we didn't have that because of the lockout, so we think it's important for these guys to make up for lots ground because of the lockout."

* Also on Tuesday, the Blues announced a three-year affiliation agreement to make the Chicago Wolves their American Hockey League farm team.

"They're a top AHL franchise and to be associated with such a winning organization is going to be very beneficial for the Blues," Armstrong said.

The Blues' former AHL affiliate was the Peoria Rivermen, who closed out their season Sunday at Carver Arena with a 3-0 loss to Milwaukee.

After the game, Rivermen players stayed to sign autographs, greet fans and posed for photos. The Blues sold the Rivermen to the Vancouver Canucks, who are reportedly looking to move the franchise elsewhere,

"Certainly Peoria's a great hockey market and we've been their for a number of years, but our belief is from a hockey operations standpoint moving forward, the organization in Chicago, the ownership group in there and the facility they play in and the practice facility, is NHL caliber. It just seemed like the right time to make this move for us."

The Wolves were affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) from 2001-2011 ad were the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks the pas two seasons,

The Wolves play their home games at the Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

Armstrong said the Blues ill have the opportunity to play at least 13 as an many as 17 of their own prospects in Chicago.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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